How to structure your IA commentary?

So, you have chosen your article for the IA commentary, now what!? Remember you only have 750 words, which isn’t much, so you have to be efficient with your use of the word count.

This is the structure I often give my students:

1- Introduction (150 words):

Use the first paragraph to very briefly (in a sentence or two) tell the reader what the article is about. Remember, you don’t have to summarize the whole article because it’s attached to the commentary! Also, use this first paragraph to define any key terms that are relevant to the context of the article (don’t stress too much about the definitions because you are being assessed on your effective use of these key terms in the context of the article, but it is helpful to provide some definitions of the main key terms).

2- Introduce theory/concepts relevant to article, draw and explain your diagram/s (150 words):

This second paragraph is where you mention the economic theory or theories or concepts relevant to the article and explain them briefly. Then get right down to drawing your diagram, labeling it fully and correctly, and explaining it in full detail (mentioning every curve and shift and from which direction to what direction etc…) For example: due to the rise in the costs of production the supply curve (S1) shifts to the left to (S2), which causes a rise in price from P1 to P2 etc…

3- Explain the link between the key terms, diagram/s and theories/concepts in the context of the article (200 words)

This is your APPLICATION (Criterion C) and your ANALYSIS (Criterion D). This is where you take all the key terms and concepts you explained, along with the diagram, and use them as tools to analyze the article, and apply them in the context provided in the article. Essentially, you want to show an understanding of how these concepts and theories and diagrams can be link and applied in the context provided by the article.

4- Evaluate (250 words)

This is your EVALUATION (Criterion E). Here is where you discuss the short term vs long term implications, the effects on different stakeholders in the context of the article, the positive and negative consequences, the assumptions and limitations of the model, the pros vs cons, and you prioritize your arguments depending on the context of the article!

How to find a good article for your Economics IA Commentary?


The Economics Internal Assessment (IA) portfolio is an opportunity for students to connect what they’re learning in class with what’s happening in the ‘real world’. For the purposes of the IA portfolio in IB Economics, students have to find three articles related to three different sections of the syllabus and then write a 750-word commentary about each article showing their abilities to apply relevant theories/concepts, use relevant economic terminology, analyze using relevant diagrams and economic models, and evaluate, all in the context of the article they chose.

So, the journey to writing an Economics IA Commentary starts with finding an appropriate article. So, what makes a good article for an IB Economics IA?

Criteria for finding a ‘good’ article:

  1. Short and sweet: one page or less is ideal. Long articles can be chosen but student needs to highlight relevant parts. However, long articles often provide a lot more analysis rather than just reporting news, so I always say: ‘pick an article that’s short and sweet!’
  2. Not published more than a year from the date of writing the commentary: the closer to today’s date, the better.
  3. Very little or no technical language: articles should just report NEWS, with minimum or no economic analysis or interpretation (because it’s the student’s job to provide the interpretation, analysis and evaluation!). Articles from the The Economist magazine for example, would not be ‘appropriate’ for writing an Economics IA Commentary (though would definitely be great for reading while studying the course material!)
  4. Article allows for linking two or more concepts in the chosen section of syllabus: the more connections you show between the article and different concepts in the syllabus, the better your application and analysis will be!
  5. Article lends itself automatically to drawing one or two diagrams: the IA commentary must contain at least one diagram (as Criterion A is ‘Diagrams’). Most IAs I have seen contain at least two diagrams (one for explaining/applying/analysing and one for evaluating or offering a solution).
  6. Each article is from a different and reputable news source: if all your articles are from BBC, then we have a problem! The portfolio should contain a diversity of news sources from different parts of the world.
  7. Each article used in portfolio covers a different section of the syllabus: I have my students do one microeconomics IA commentary once we finish microeconomics unit, then one macroeconomics IA commentary once we finish macroeconomics unit, then they can choose either one international economics or development economics IA commentary once we finish the syllabus! So by the end, there will be an microeconomics-related article, macroeconomics-related article, and either international- or development economics-related article!
  8. Each article relates to a different part of the world: IB learners should be globally-minded world citizens. I expect my students to write each commentary on an article from a different country in a completely different world region. Once again, the portfolio should contain a diversity of news sources from different parts of the world!
  9. Each article is a primary source: articles found in Economic textbooks, for example, cannot be used!
  10. Article can be written in any language: but a translation must be provided if not written in English!
  11. Article should deal with contentious issues that are of interest to YOU: if issues in article are not contentious/controversial or you’re not necessarily interested in them, it’ll be more difficult to write the commentary.

The next blogpost I’ll be talking about how to structure the IA commentary in order to meet the assessment criteria!

The perfect economics Paper 1 Part (B) essay?


So, you finished your Paper 1 Part A essay worth 10 marks, where you did the DEED. Now you have your Part B essay worth 15 marks. How do you go about writing it?

Again, borrowed from Tim Woods: Do the DEED and CLASPP it all together!

The Part B essay is the ‘evaluation’ essay. How do you ‘evaluate’ in economics?

Start by defining key terms, explaining relevant concepts and theories, giving relevant contextualized real life example and drawing a diagram/s, as you would in a Part A essay, then pick 2-3 evaluation ‘talking points’ from the acronym CLASPP:

1- C => Conclusions: what can you conclude from the theory that you have explained in your analysis? Are there any ‘conflicting’ conclusions that can be drawn from this analysis?

2- L => Long term vs Short term: are there long term effects or implications different from the short term effects or implications? Your ability to explain that consequences happen in different time frames is a very good evaluation skill.

3- A => Assumptions vs Limitations: what are the assumptions of this model or analysis? What are the limitations of these assumptions or the limitations of the model? Recognizing that economic models are not perfect and they have their limitations is a very good evaluation skill.

4- S => Stakeholders gaining vs Stakeholders losing: every economic decision or policy or event has stakeholders that gain and stakeholders that lose, and being able to identify in details those winners (and how they win) and those losers (and how they lose) is a very good evaluation skill.

5- P => Pros vs Cons: recognising the advantages and disadvantages, the strengths and weaknesses, the pros and cons, is definitely the most basic evaluation skill.

6- P => Priorities: recognising the differences in priorities of the government vs priorities of the individual vs priorities of society, and how different economic agents have different priorities, is a very good evaluation skill.

To wrap up, in Paper 1 Part B questions, Do the DEED and then CLASPP it all together! You should finish your part A essay in 18 minutes maximum, and your part B essay in 27 minutes maximum!

Here’s a short video to explain in more detail:

The perfect economics Paper 1 Part (A) essay?


This photo may seem unrelated to the blogpost, but it was snapped by one of my students’ iPads when I was trying to explain how to write the perfect economics essay for Paper 1, so it inspired me to write this blogpost!

So, you have a Paper 1 question made up of Part (a) and Part (b), how do you tackle it?

My approach to Paper 1 was inspired by this blogpost from

For part (a): Do the DEED!

DEED is an acronym for: Definitions + Explanation + Example + Diagram/s…

What I tell my students:

1- Definitions: Make sure you define all key terms that are ‘relevant‘ to the question. Also, writing a vague definition is always better than writing no definition; but writing an accurate and precise definition always beats a vague definition!

Remember, not all ‘relevant’ key terms will necessarily be mentioned in the question.

2- Explanation: Make sure you explain all economic concepts/theories that are ‘relevant’ to the question. Explanations need to be accurate and in enough detail to demonstrate sufficient knowledge and understanding. Wishy-washy vague explanations are not very helpful!

3- Example/s: You defined and explained, now you need to APPLY and ANALYZE… how? By providing relevant real-life examples and drawing a diagram/s! Remember, a hypothetical example is always better than no example at all, but a real-life example will always beat a hypothetical example! That’s why it’s important to follow economic news and build a bank of real-life examples that are relevant to your concepts as you’re studying the course!

4- Diagram/s: economists love diagrams and models! Think about it, every chapter has at least one diagram or economic model in it! Make sure your diagrams are accurately labeled and the labels are in full detail! Label the axes in full detail as well as any curves/graphs you draw. It’s also not enough to draw the diagram, you need to explain it and apply it in the body of the essay, using the same labels, for example: as shown in the diagram, the _______ caused the demand curve to shift from D1 to D2 etc…

Now the real skill is in how your essay flows and how you link each component of the DEED together, but this basic structure provides a good starting point!

To sum up:

1- Accurate/precise relevant definitions

2- Detailed and clear explanations

3- Contextualized and relevant real-life example/s

4- Accurate and clearly labeled diagram/s with full explanations!

Here’s a short video to explain in more detail:

Good luck!

TOKing the Econ classroom?


The IB Diploma Program expectations are that all students registered in the program write an Extended Essay (EE), do Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS), and take a Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course!

I find all three fascinating, but nothing has fascinated me throughout my years as an IBDP Economics teacher as much as the TOK course. In fact, I myself was expected to model a course on TOK to teach for the non-IB students at my previous school (there was a ‘Global Citizens Diploma’ division for students who did not want an IB Diploma).

So, TOK is all about ‘how do we know what we know?’ and ‘do we really know what we think we know?’ and ‘where does knowledge come from?’ and ‘what are the ramifications and implications of finding out that all our knowledge is incorrect or incomplete?’ and ‘what does knowing truly mean?’ etc… Basically, it’s a course designed to build critical thinking and challenge students to question their own and society’s knowledge, ideas, biases etc…

Of all the ideas explored in the TOK course, I’m most fascinated with the Ways of Knowing (WOKs) which are “traits which knowers can possess through which the knowers obtain and manipulate knowledge“.

The TOK course presents eight WOKs:

1- Language (oral and written)

2- Sense perception

3- Memory

4- Intuition

5- Faith

6- Imagination

7- Emotion

8- Reason

So, you might be thinking, well how does this tie in with an economics course? Many many ways my friend.

As economists and economics teachers, we need to recognize the limitations of the economic models and concepts that we teach! They’re not infallible! We also should spend some time looking at the history of economic thought and see where did these ideas and theories come from and what contexts they evolved from.

For example, students often struggle with understanding why the Keynesians and New Classical/Monetarist economists have different shapes for the Aggregate Supply (AS) curve: Keynesian AS is horizontal up until the economy reaches full employment level of output, then it becomes vertical, while the Monetarist/New Classical AS is vertical all the way.

This is a perfect TOK opportunity!

Even the IB Economics Syllabus lists this as one of the potential TOK connections:

“The Keynesian and Monetarist positions differ on the shape of the AS curve. What is needed to settle this question: empirical evidence (if so, what should be measured?), strength of theoretical argument, or factors external to economics such as political conviction?”

This approach to critical questioning of the various models and diagrams that we teach is very important. These models are attempts to make sense of markets or various parts of the economy or the economy as a whole, but they’re not as ‘intuitive’ as many Economics teachers believe. In fact, more often than not, these models and equations and quantitative techniques are what deter students from studying Economics. These models and diagrams and quantitative techniques are based on very limiting assumptions, and it’s ok to recognize the limitations of these models.

So, how do Keynesians and Monetarists ‘know’ the shape of the AS curve? How do both sides claim to ‘know’ the relationship between real output and average price level?

While I try my best to explain the ‘reasoning’ behind the models I teach in the Economics classroom, I often also try to harness the other Ways of Knowing (WOKs) in analyzing the strengths as well as limitations of these models, and constantly push students to question those models.

I believe TOK and Economics can go hand in hand in order to develop the students’ critical thinking!